Notable among Khmer art are the series of episodic murals situated in the vihara of Wat Bo in Siem Reap province, Cambodia.
Founded at the end of the 18th century, Wat Bo, also known as Wat Rajabo, is one of the oldest surviving Buddhist temples in Cambodia and is renowned for its traditional arts and crafts and music.
Located inside the main vihara of the complex is the painted narrative of the Indian epic of Rama, known as the Reamker in Cambodia. The Reamker is fairly faithful in content to the Indian poet Valmiki’s version, the Ramayana, though many of the proper names have been modified or changed to accommodate differences in the Cambodian language.
In addition, the Reamker contains allusions to both Hinduism and Buddhism since Cambodia is a predominantly Buddhist society. For example, Rama is referred to as both the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and the Buddha.
The paintings of the Reamker at Wat Bo date back to the 19th century. They depict 111 scenes in a “patchwork” arrangement of story panels. Although some of the panels are damaged and in need of repair, the mural is remembered for its unique and vibrant colors that can still be seen today. Additionally, there are depictions of Chinese merchants and French colonial officers in the paintings, giving an interesting insight into the historical setting in which the Reamker mural was executed.
The Reamker mural at Wat Bo is an important work of art in that it provides not only a distinctive depiction of Indian culture’s formative role in the country, but also a source for understanding Cambodian sentiment, history, and religion.